Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick or Treat

Halloween, in case I haven't told you already, is my favorite holiday. There are lots of reasons for this, most of them obvious: the imaginative aspects, the fun of dress-up, the candy, the ghost stories. Then there's my own special reason: Halloween is the only holiday that's almost entirely politician-proof. When's the last time you heard some blowhard spouting off about how Halloween expresses the values that made this country great? "Our long-suffering pagan ancestors, in the days of yore...." It just ain't gonna happen.

I had a great Halloween this year, though it was tinged by a sad note: my old animation teacher, Tippi, died several weeks before. Tippi (or Priscilla, as I discovered from the obituary she was named) was one of the great influences of my young life, when, at the age of nine, I joined her class at the local arts center to learn the craft of stop-motion, cell, and other forms of animation. With regular-8 camera in hand, I produced lots of wobbly, jerky claymation shorts in hopes that one day I'd become the next great stop-motion animator, following my heroes Willis H. O'Brien (who animated my favorite movie of all time, the 1933 King Kong) and Ray Harryhausen (whose swan song, Clash of the Titans, was remade earlier this year). Of course, it didn't work out that way; stop-motion went the way of the dinosaurs when computer-generated effects hit their stride, and in any event, I'd moved on to other venues by that time. But I still think of Tippi as one of the most important people in my life, one of the first people who took entirely seriously my love of fantasy and my desire to live a life not altogether according to convention. Several years before she died, I had the pleasure of presenting her with a copy of my book on fantasy film, in which she receives acknowledgment. I acknowledge her again here as an extraordinary woman and an undying part of who I am today.

And speaking of early childhood influences, who should I run into while taking my kids out trick-or-treating (my son in homemade General Grievous costume, my daughter in homemade Ms. Pac-Man monster suit) but one of my childhood friends, Herman, with whom (among many other things) I used to construct Halloween haunted houses in my parents' basement? We'd lost touch for many years, then reconnected several years ago, lost touch again, and now (having traded emails) I expect we'll keep the friendship going once more. It was at Herman's house that I first saw some of the fantasy films I remember best today; on his birthday, his family would set up a rented projector in the livingroom and a bunch of us boys would watch such movies as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (another Harryhausen classic) and The Blob (which made just about all of us sick). I've carried on the haunted-house tradition with my own kids; at our annual Halloween party, my son, the younger of the two, squats inside a cardboard box and pulls all the fishing lines that make ghosts and werwolves and devils dance while my daughter reads a script full of spooky names and (age-appropriate) scary scenarios. So just like Tippi, Herman was one of the first people who helped nurture my love of the fantastic, and bumping into him on Halloween was both a perfect coincidence and quite a treat.

Another coincidence, this one more of a trick: I was unable to attend Tippi's memorial service because it conflicted with my Halloween party. But I guess you could say, in the truest sense, that she was there in spirit.

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